Brig. Gen. Gökhan Şahin Sönmezateş, who allegedly ordered a group of soldiers to a hotel in Muğla province where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was staying on the night of a failed coup attempt in July, said in a hearing on Thursday that he admits his crime but denies any links to the Gülen movement.
During his trial in Muğla, Sönmezateş, the head of the team that allegedly aimed to assassinate Erdoğan, said: “I know what I am talking about and I admit my crime, but I am not a Gülenist. If they were to promise to release me in return for admitting to being a Gülenist, I would rather stay jailed for 90,000 years, but I still would not admit to the treason of being a Gülenist.”
In his defense, the brigadier general referred to the Gülen movement by the same abbreviation that the government uses, “FETÖ,” a pejorative term to label the movement as a terrorist organization.
Admitting his involvement in the coup, the soldier voiced his concerns about security due to large protests outside the courtroom. “The next step will be shooting us — they all look like junkies,” Sönmezateş said in reference to the protesters outside the courthouse who reportedly tried to attack the coup suspects while entering the building. He also said he would prefer to be tried under detention and was not asking for his release.
Meanwhile, a crowd outside threw eggs and nooses at the suspects. The police stopped some of the protesters who wanted to jump over the barriers and attack the coup suspects. The crowd also chanted slogans in favor of capital punishment and tore posters bearing photos of Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen into pieces.
The government accuses Gülen of masterminding the coup plot, while Gülen denies any involvement and has called for an international investigation into the incident.
A report prepared by the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (IntCen) revealed that although Turkish President Erdoğan and the Turkish government immediately put the blame for a July 15 failed coup attempt on the faith-based Gülen movement, the coup attempt was staged by a range of Erdoğan’s opponents due to fears of an impending purge, according to a report by The Times newspaper in January.
Several Turkey observers state that the coup could have involved Gülen sympathizer officers within the military, though it could not have been the driving force of the attempt.